Brother Greg Stewart over at the Masonic Traveler blog inspired me to think about Freemasonry on the web. I have decided to focus on one very particular aspect of e-Masonry (a term I hate), the Lodge website, in particular, the bare bones basic of what a Lodge website should have.
I have been pondering this question after I began to look at different Lodge websites. The quality and style varies completely from Lodge to Lodge, Grand Lodge to Grand Lodge. However, I thought it might be helpful for me to list what I think are the most important elements that a Lodge should include when creating a website.
1) A Welcoming Homepage
Lodges should strive to create a welcoming beginning for the curious searcher. One of the first elements that a person sees should be an impressive picture. It could be a picture of the Lodge Room, the exterior of the Lodge building, or even a video made by a Lodge brother about the Lodge. Also, when the homepage comes up, don't have music playing, it is incredibly annoying. I would also avoid old style HTML pages as they look outdated and are incredibly hard to update which is important in this fast changing world. It is essential that a person can navigate to nearly everywhere on the front page. Remember that the homepage is not a welcome mat but the entryway. We want people to feel comfortable the second they find us.
2) Event Calendar
The event calendar is essential for keeping brothers aware of the going-ons in the Lodge. It is important to remember that the website should be informative to both those from outside the Lodge as well as to brothers within the Lodge. The event calendar should be easily available, perhaps even on the front page. An event calendar is also helpful for brothers that are not a part of the Lodge by giving them an idea of when they can visit the Lodge and what to expect when they get there.
3) History and About Us
It is important that we tell the story of our Lodges. Every Lodge has a story, a story of when it was formed, by whom, famous members, interesting facts, etc. It is important that we tell the story and not let someone else do that for us. These stories become a single piece of the larger story of Freemasonry. It is important that they be made known.
4) Officer List
The Lodge website should list the officers of the Lodge. The reason for this is the same as the event calendar, brothers need to know who to contact if they have been gone for a while. It also allows those brothers in the line to give information back to the brothers about who they are.
I am a blogger so I have a vested interest in maintaining this most efficient way to communicate. That being said, a blog is invaluable in forwarding the immediate messages to the brothers or providing up to the minute news about the Lodge. It is easy to set-up and adding new entries to a blog is fast. Blogs allow for communications between newsletter issues. Blogs don't have the same expectations of journalism and allows for a conversational tone.
6) Third Party Web 2.0 Services
Do you have a lot of photos from the Lodge? Get on Flickr. Flickr allows photostreams to be embedded on to websites. How about a movie made about the Lodge? Just upload the video on to Youtube and embed the video on the site. The best part of all these sites: They're free! Why pay expensive bandwidth costs when Google and Yahoo will do that for you.
7) Contact Form
A contact form should be included to allow brothers, potential petitioners and the public to be able to get into contact with the Lodge. Brothers from out of town may want to visit the Lodge, while potential petitioners may want to meet to get better acquainted with the Fraternity to learn about what we do. It is also important that we give an opportunity to the public to speak to us about an event we may want to be a part of in the community, or perhaps someone has a question about a deceased brother. We need that buy-in with the community to again be relevant.
8) Online Petition
This element I am sure will cause the most discord, but I believe that petitions should be available online. It needs to be noted that the petition is only one part of the initiation process. In fact, in Minnesota, a brother needs two brothers to sign his petition to be considered to be eligible for the degrees. The petition section and the contact section should function in tandem, providing the potential candidate with the petition to read and a way to get into contact with the Lodge to be met by brothers of the Lodge. In the new era of Freemasonry, more brothers will be arriving without knowing someone who is a Mason. In my case, it was my grandfather that was a Mason who got me involved in Freemasonry and my father joined through me. However, it is more often than not that a brother will have no connection to the Lodge and very likely not knowing a Mason at all. Offering the petition online allows the potential brother to have control over his destiny in taking the path to Freemasonry.
Now this list is not in any particular order and I think all of them are important in improving one of the great communication tools that Lodges can use. Websites give Lodges and Grand Lodges the ability to define who we are and what we do and allows those potential brothers with no connection to Freemasonry to finally have a way into the Fraternity.